Friday, November 30, 2007

Something to make you chuckle.


Cake creations.

Have I ever mentioned how much I like my Better Crocker Bake and Fill dome pan?

Becca's birthday cake, brought in to share with her classmates today. And the brain cake for the 1st Grade Halloween party.
07beccake.jpg IMG_0942.JPG

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Yesterday Ian called in a sick day (he really was sick), and we went to the school in the afternoon for the MS/HS band concert.


It was nearly 2 hours of various band and string and vocal ensembles, but all in all quite fun. One HS kid did a Beethoven piece on the piano that was very impressive. I'll be quite happy at home now if the 6th grade moves on to other songs besides This Old Man, Sawmill Creek, and Jingle Bells. During the performance, this Old Man was cute, "with a knick knack paddy whack" was done by each different instrument, so all the flutes, then all the clarinets, etc., down to the single baritone and of course, the drums.
But of course anything that involves Katherine has to involve drama as well. Before the concert she went to the bathroom. With her flute in hand. And put it down on the bench. RIGHT NEXT TO ANOTHER FLUTE. Guess what, she now has someone else's old beat up flute and her brand new shiny one is no where to be found. Not even the ID number on the flute helped as apparently no one at the school has this one registered to them. Kinda makes you wonder why they have serial numbers in the first place.
So now she has someone else's old dilapidated flute, she says she can't make it sound proper, and I honestly don't think that anyone who picked up hers accidentally on-purpose is going to hand it back. This school is awful for theft. I mean, even when one of the kids leaves a lunchbox, a clealy labeled in black permanent marker HOPPER lunchbox, it ends up in the Lost&Found if we're lucky. Returning labeled items is not done (I mean, we have -4- Hopper classrooms it could go to, right?), unlabeled items you'll never see again, and costly items will get stolen.
So do I get her her own flute? It's tempting, so she has a decent instrument to own and use for keeps, one that wouldn't go to school, so she'd use the school one at school. It is tempting.
But why is it that negative stuff like this taints so much of what she does?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Turkey Day!



The kids did the Turkey Trot again this year and everyone thought it was easier than last year. Well, not everyone, I think Jonathon got a stitch somewhere in the first 1K and was moaning the rest of the run. He's informed us he will not be doing the Trot next year.

We did a bona fide Turkey Day this year, with company (ok, our neighbors, practically family) and everything. Two turkeys were cooked along with a sweet potato dish, mashed potatoes, cheesy potatoes, stuffing, broccoli almondine, corn, homemade yeast biscuits, gravy, 2 kinds of cranberry sauce, green salad, pickles, olives, cherry crumble, apple pie, and 2 pumpkin pies with Cool Whip. Needless to say, even with 10 people we hardly made a dent.



The house looked and smelled and sounded good. There was no frantic pace to the day, in fact I disappeared for a couple hours with a friend to the framing shop and then for some iced coffee while pies were baking.

The framing shop was for several items, not even all that I'd brought along but we'll see how they turn out. Last Saturday we went to a photograph show by someone at the Consulate and there was a rush on his photos, taken from all over India. We bought three and they'll be gorgeous once they're framed.

Off to watch the rest of this week's Broncos/Titans game. Someone at the Consulate was kind enough to record a game off his AFN box. I don't care about either of the teams, but it's Thanksgiving and it's football and it makes us happy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

Yup, I should have taken both teeth out last Thursday. Was I nuts to do this before Thanksgiving? Absolutely. And it's even more annoying that I can no longer find my antibiotics. They were on the table this morning, now they are gone. But as the dentist said when I asked for a new prescription on Monday: "A new prescription? Go into the pharmacy and ask for it! This is India!" We just used the old prescription... and got it back to use again and again. The pain killer is something called Amol Plus which appears to be codeine laced paracetamol (tylenol for the rest of you). Good stuff. I do have to watch it at work though, I've been caught staring over the heads of people at nothing on far wall.

In other news, feeding the family just got more difficult. On the ride home, between the belting out of Avril Lavigne and the discussion on something inane:

Jonathon: Mom?
M: Yes?
Jonathon: I'm sorry, I won't eat meat anymore.
M: You're going to be a vegetarian?
Jonathon: Yes. Animals are my favorite.

Short, sweet and to the point. Unfortunately, the rest of the family has not been too forgiving. We've had rounds of "I like animals too... they are SOOOO tasty!" while taking a big bite of our hamburger dinner. He's serious though. He stated he could not eat a burger and had macaroni and cheese instead, what was supposed to be my dinner. He clarified that animals products like eggs and milk are still OK as they come -from- an animal but aren't actually of the animal. Rebecca made her snarky retort how baby animals come -from- bigger animals.

Life was getting a little dull.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tennis Racquets

We're in the market for a new racquet for Rebecca. She's due for a 26" graphite racquet, keeping in mind that she's 10 years old, which one (for those who know these things) would suit her best?

The Prince Air Scream (yeah, dumb name)
Head Size:
107 sq. in. / 690 sq. cm.
Length: 26 inches / 66 cm
Strung Weight: 9.5oz / 269g
Balance: 3pts Head Light
Swingweight: 238
Stiffness: 48
Beam Width: 21 mm Straight Beam
Composition: Graphite Fusionlite Alloy
Power Level: Low-Medium
Swing Speed: Moderate-Fast
Grip Type: Cushion Grip
String Pattern: 16 Mains / 19 Crosses
Mains skip: 8T,8H
Two Piece
No shared holes
String Tension: 45-55 pounds
Prince Shark
Head Size:
100 sq. in. / 645 sq. cm.
Length: 26 inches / 66 cm
Strung Weight: 8.3oz / 235g
Balance: 6 pts Head Heavy
Swingweight: 247
Stiffness: 66
Beam Width: 24 mm Straight Beam
Composition: GraphitExtreme / Titanium / Tungsten / Carbon
Power Level: Medium
Swing Speed: Moderate-Fast
Grip Type: Dura Tac
String Pattern: 16 Mains / 20 Crosses
Mains skip: 7T,9T
One Piece
Shared Holes: 7H,8H
String Tension: 45-55 pounds
Or if you really know your stuff... recommendations?? She's a beginner/intermediate player, getting comfortable with moving around the court, has a great forehand, decent backhand and no clue about "spin."

Doing fine, thanks.

After a night of swallowing blood, I admit yesterday was an achey missing tooth day. In the evening I broke down and took another pain pill just to push the acheys away so I could enjoy Amazing Race. Today though has been just fine. Very minor acheys. Which is good because it's been quite the busy day with tennis lessons, piano lessons, a Commissary "meeting" (it was almost as much fun as making our own consumables list and if you've never done it, you have no idea what I'm talking about), USA Day on the Pilgrims, a bit of free time now before we Skype with my parents then head out to a Photography exhibit of sorts by a Consulate associate. At least we're not going to a wedding tonight too as some others are. I do wish I'd had both teeth done at the same time though. As much of a pain as it was, it would be almost all over with now instead of facing another stretch with more of the same. At least once this one is done, I'm done forever.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I don't hurt. Yet.

Had a wisdom tooth pulled today. Even got to bring it home to show the kids. Of course, I'm still on the novocaine kick, so no pain. Yet. The other one gets pulled Monday, then stitches come out a few days later. Let's hope I can eat Turkey Day dinner.

Ah who cares, the leftovers are better anyway.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Trying to make ourselves heard over the din.

AFSANET: Defending our Foreign Service in the Current Crisis: November
10, 2007

This message is from AFSA State Vice President Steve Kashkett.

I don't have a newspaper to write to, so this blog will have to do. Please read on.

Fellow State Foreign Service Members:
Our beloved Foreign Service is taking a severe beating in media, and we
need your help in setting the record straight in the public mind!
Over the past two weeks, most news organizations have misreported the
Iraq "prime candidates" exercise and the candid exchanges that took
place at the unfortunate Town Hall meeting here in the Department. We
have gotten precious little coverage of the FACTS:
-- more than 2,000 FS members have volunteered for service in
Iraq/Afghanistan over the past five years;
-- no one has had to be directed to serve in either war zone thus far;
-- this exercise is about a potential shortfall in volunteers for a
relatively small number of positions in Iraq for summer 2008;
-- well over 80 percent of the FS-designated positions in Iraq for
summer 2008 have already been filled, eight months in advance;
-- Embassy Baghdad has a lower vacancy rate than almost any other U.S.
embassy in the world;
-- most people in the Foreign Service spend the majority of their
careers in increasingly difficult and dangerous hardship posts;
-- unlike the military, our members are courageously volunteering to
serve as unarmed civilians in a combat zone;
-- our assignment system has always worked on a voluntary basis because
FS members take seriously their commitment to worldwide service;
-- when the Foreign Service is compared unfavorably with the military,
we have attempted to note that the Foreign Service is less than one-half
of one percent of the size of the U.S. military in personnel and budget,
and that we are stretched thin all over the world at the other 260
embassies and consulates that we staff , most of which are hardship
Many of you have seen some of the scathing, inaccurate editorials and
op-eds. Here are just a few examples:
AFSA has had only limited success at setting the record straight. AFSA
President John Naland and I have appeared on several national television
and radio programs and have been quoted in major print media; however,
more often than not, most of our key points have been edited out.
Moreover, the sheer volume of hostile articles makes it impossible for
AFSA's small staff to respond to every one. We have been pushing hard
to get one of the major national newspapers to run an AFSA op-ed that
makes the points above, but have struck out so far. Sadly, they seem
quite willing to print criticisms of the Foreign Service by those (often
longtime State-bashers) who question our patriotism and our courage, but
we can't get them to publish our side of the story.
We propose that all Foreign Service members consider writing letters to
the editor of your local hometown newspapers to try to get our point of
view reflected in the media. Almost every newspaper has a system for
accepting letters to the editor via e-mail. Please feel free to draw on
the bulleted points above, but use your own words and cite your own
examples of dedicated service from your own personal experiences,
especially at hardship and unaccompanied posts. Make sure to identify
yourself as a Foreign Service member giving your own personal opinions,
NOT speaking officially on behalf of the Department. Remember that a
typical letter to the editor is only 150-200 words, so your submission
has a better chance of getting published if you keep within those
limits. Please let us know if one of your letters gets published.
Let's make sure the public understands what today's Foreign Service is
really about!

Buy One. Give One.

SunNight Solar and Bogo lights: portable lights, charged by the sun. When you buy one, another is automatically sent to someone in need, or you can choose your own recipient group.

Lighting the world in a clean manner. It's that easy.

IHT: Mark Bent's crusade to bring light to the poor of Africa.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Well. That was dangerous.

Firecrackers are part of Diwali/Deepavali. That probably partly explains the three day headache I'm working on.

The thing is, it wasn't enough for the entire city to snap, crackle and pop since Wednesday. The Consulate had someone selling fireworks too, so our illustrious diplomats bought boxes of Made in China goodness and tonight was our night to blow things up. We walked a block to the neighborhood cricket pitch, a relatively flat, empty lot without a lot of trees or wires hanging right over it. That and the fact we're not allowed to explode things on government property made it ideal.

These were bona fide fireworks, shooting 50feet into the air, flinging ash and burning embers everywhere. They were loud, echoes reverberating off the surrounding buildings. And they were so very dangerous. Most could be laughed off, until a repeater tipped over and started firing horizontally all over the pitch. We must have been quite a sight for the gathered on-lookers as we ran screaming to hide behind the outer wall. We stayed there for the rest of the show and let Ian and our neighbor stay inside the wall. They had to since they were setting the things off and risking digits to do so.

Next year, we travel over Diwali.

Update Time

Forced Iraq Postings "May Be Necessary"

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Sacraments

You've heard my trials about finding a church to attend here in Chennai. I have several prerequisites:

Not at the crack of dawn (seriously, several places have English Mass at 6 or 6:30 a.m.)
Driveable without a driver

I also searched high and low for a place that provided catechism for the kids. In English. At a reasonable time. There was a small church leftover from the Portugese era that had promise, but we checked it out a week after it had been demolished to allow a new church to rise in the coming year.
So, we stick with Santhome Basilica. We choose the noon Mass since the music is marginally better than the 9:30 a.m. especially on first Sundays when 9:30 hosts the St. Bede "boys choir." The Revival Singers can at least sing, even if their songs are evangelical hits or taken from the Beatles, Sinatra or the movie "Sister Act." Seriously, they did the funky "Hail Holy Queen" a few weeks back.
I wouldn't worry too much about all this except I have two kids getting ready for First Communion and having a steady and basic understanding of the Mass is extremely important for this Sacrament. The churches here don't hold normal Vatican II services. The readings are a little off so the kids can't follow in my Missal (which reminds me, Nicholas wants a Missal all his own, one with all the readings not a kid version), the homilies are typically way off (at least we no longer have the e-mail forward homilies anymore) and few of the congregation responses are what we're accustomed to and none of the sung responses are. Getting anything from the Mass is easier here than it was in Togo, but it's still not great. You know what I really miss? I miss the Tagalog Our Father sung in our church in Manila. By the end of the tour we could all sing it by heart because even though it wasn't our norm, it was beautiful and consistent.
Attending a Catechism class is really important for First Communion prep and I don't have all the materials to teach them myself, nor sadly all the knowledge. Santhome just announced a Catechism class for English speakers which seemed like an answer to prayers other than the 7:15 a.m. meeting time. They announced it at the noon Mass, I do wonder how many takers they'll get.
All this to say, I am absolutely thrilled with one of our new arrivals at post. Not only is she Catholic, she's a Catechism teacher primarily for First Communion. And here's the best part, she has a 2nd grader herself. She's offered to teach my kids too and we'll coordinate with the church about a First Communion Mass next summer when all the grandparents can come for the celebration. Doesn't this just seem like it was meant to be? I am very excited.

Rs48 to Rs39 to the Dollar

Rising Rupee Casts a Shadow

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Snap Crackle Pop

I wish it was cereal, but instead today is Deepavali (or Diwali, or Divali, or...) so the crackers have been going off all - day - long. Diwali is a festival of light, a joyous occasion of good beating out evil, a time of gift-giving, new clothes, and shiny jewelry. It's basically the Hindu Christmas based on the story the Ramayana with loads of little tea-lighted or oil-filled diyas fending off evil. Houses are lit up with strings of lights. Snacks and sweets are shared among family and friends. And there are crackers. Lots and lots of crackers that started sporadically yesterday, built up all day today and are now in full swing with the coming of dark. It's sounds like a war zone and there's no where to get away from it since the crackers are set off in every direction around the house. There's a movement for quieter, less polluted ways of celebration but I don't think we'll see any progress during our limited time here.

There is one day of the 5-day festival we might incorporate to our list of holidays, Bhaubeej or BhaiDooj. It's a day where siblings honor each other with blessings and pledges of support. Goodness knows we could use some of that around here.

Happy Deepavali!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Delhi and back

Let me preface this post with the following: I like Chennai. I like Chennai more now after spending a little time in Delhi.

On to the weekend, finally.

The kids stayed with friends, we went to Delhi. It's the first time we've hopped a plane without them, ever, and I'll admint it was relaxing and pleasant. The kids stayed with a family with 3 kids: a 2nd grader, 6th grader and 9th grader. On Saturday they all went out for Pizza Hut and spent the evening at school for the AISC Diwali party. The amount of stuff I sent with them was appalling including sleeping bags, Diwali clothes, books, games... but all bases were covered. Unfortunately we left Rebecca on Friday night feeling feverish. It's never comfortable leaving a sick child behind, thankfully she was pretty much OK by Saturday aside from a continued mild case of laryngitis.
Enough on them, what did we do? We flew off into the sunrise Saturday morning on Kingfisher airlines. Great airline, highly recommended. It left on time, provided a hot breakfast, arrived on time, and gifted bags of goodies. They even have web check-in. The seats are comfortable and actually provide a little leg room. Not the same on Deccan Air for our return trip. Kingfisher just acquired Deccan, but there's much to do yet to bring Deccan up to par. The seats were old faux leather and there was absolutely no leg room. Both of our knees were pressed into the seat in front. Ian was even more miserable once the seat in front of him reclined. Our seats did not recline... we were in front of the emergency exit row. There is a pay a la carte menu, even the coffee is Rs20 worth of instant Cafe' Coffee Day packaged brew. And they were out of the instant noodles. The plane was old and loud, and totally not worth the slightly cheaper fare. We'll avoid taking Deccan again, though we chose it for the timing. The return Kingfisher flight wasn't until the evening and we wanted to come back in the afternoon at a good time to retrieve the kids.
The flight is only 2 1/2 hours. We can handle anything for 2 1/2 hours.
Delhi airport was familiar. We met up with our neighbors who had taken the Deccan flight up and they offered to share their car with us to get us to our hotel.
Actually, it wasn't our hotel yet. We never got a confirmation prior to our arrival that the last blocked room had been reassigned to us. Ian was in regular contact with a Marine at post who assured us time and again that everything would be in place. We arrived at the hotel, said thanks to our friends, and got ready to hike next door to the ITC Hotel in case we were homeless. We weren't homeless. The room was ours and we were upgraded to the Club floor with the standard free bottle of wine and view of a far off Humayun's Tomb. Like last year at this time, the weather in Delhi is categorized as "Smoke" and folks readily complain about the polluted haze hanging over the city as more and more people burn dung fires for heat and cooking. We found the air fresh and cool, which goes to show the relative heat and stink of Chennai. I think some had to do with the area we were in too. The Diplomatic Enclave is an area of town filled with broad tree lined streets, little traffic and spacious compounds. One edge of the enclave is protected forest even. To say it was a pleasure to walk around outside is an understatement.
Our room wasn't ready immediately, a common issue arriving at 9:30 in the morning. We had a leisurely brunch until the tables were cleared for the lunch crowd, checked our room, then took a walk towards the Gandhi salt statue. We never actually made it to the statue, instead we were sidetracked by the American School, American Embassy and American Compound. All in a 3 block radius - one block each. Thirty percent of the Embassy personnel live on the compound, the rest live up to 20 minutes away in apartments. For those who live on the compound (mostly families), I see this: Get up, walk to school. Get up, cross the street to work. Pick up groceries from the commissary. You can buy anything in the real size store that you don't already buy in your consumables. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables from the greengrocer. Meet up with friends in the ice cream shop. Get in some laps at the pool. Watch a Tball game. Go bowling. Have a date at the one of the on-compound full-service restaurants. Play with the other kids in the neighborhood. Ride bikes. Have a picnic on one of the tended lawns. And if you want to step outside the American bubble, attend a function at one of the Embassies down the street. Have dinner at the Chinese or Japanese restaurant a couple blocks away. Get cash from the ATM. Or don't, because the commissary takes any either Rs or $, cash or check. Some trips out of town include the pink city of Jaipur and the Taj Mahal in Agra.
They get 20% differential. Some even want 25%. They don't like the pollution (I'm sure it gets bad on days), they don't like the traffic (it's INDIA), and they have no local grocery stores (never mind the commissary, apparently).
It makes me happy we're in Chennai where we earn our 20%.
Enough on that.
We returned to the hotel to shower and nap. Getting up at 4 a.m. and knowing we'd be up late that night, we snoozed while we could. The room was quiet. Unfortunately we snoozed right through snack time and our neighbors arrived to get dolled up for the Ball.
We should have snacked. While the appetizers were tasty, after I dropped a mushroom puff I was a little wary of eating while standing and holding a glass. Holding a glass, the talent of all Officers and kin. It doesn't have to have anything in it even, but having that glass at all times is the final touch to every formal gathering. I'll stick with that and pass on the tasty tidbits. The ceremony started a mere 5 minutes late, but the birthday message, the colors, and the National Anthem, the cake cutting, and the two honored guest speeches pushed the time back to nearly 10 p.m. The cake cutting is always a wonderful ceremony, honoring the youngest and oldest Marines present. The oldest was a retired visitor, but the youngest was one of the current Embassy guards, a young man turning 21 next month. The cake was pretty good too, not at all like the fruit cake thing in Togo.
Dinner was a wonderful buffet and we stuffed ourselves silly. We were seated at a table with our Chennai neighbors and three Delhians (Delhiites?) but there wasn't that much time to chat before the music started blaring at 11 p.m. The DJ needed a bit of help with music choice and the process of letting a song finish before cutting to the next, but we had plenty of fun with the songs we did know. Showing our age, we bailed at 12:30 with our blisters and crashed upstairs.
Sunday morning was beautiful. The temperature outside just gorgeous and again we had a long leisurely brunch. The night had the emergency rule instituted in Pakistan, so the newspapers were all atwitter and little else was on the tube. Delhi is hardly close to Pakistan, but it's a whole lot closer than Chennai. We went home. Once the bag was gently packed with our bottle of wine and 6 souvenir glasses from the Ball, the hotel provided a car to the airport and I already mentioned our flight home, so the return trip was uneventful. OK, I knew the bottle of wine couldn't come in carry-on luggage but we didn't have any checked bags. And it served a purpose as it distracted security from the bottles of shampoo I bought at the commissary and all the little gel things from the hotel room. No loss leaving the free bottle of wine at security.
The kids were exhausted from their busy weekend and happy to see us again. I think they were happier to see the hotel chocolates and very little gifts we brought back. What 11yo doesn't like door signs that say "Please collect laundry" and "Please make room." Hee.
Don't tell the Taj.